Mt Beauty locals have been laying rubber on Big Hill singletrack since Phil Collins had a full head of hair. This spot is truly one of the original mountain bike towns in Australia, the tap root of the region’s blossoming scene, and amongst our all-time favourite places to ride.
Why does this town grab us? Maybe it’s the nostalgia, maybe it’s the setting, maybe it’s the company? Or maybe it’s that Mt Beauty continues to fly in the face of the gentrification of mountain bike trails. Mt Beauty’s trail builders cling proudly to a gritty, raw and downright challenging style of construction, the polar opposite of the groomed predictability that typifies a lot of new trail development. These trails are scratched into the slopes with hand tools, you won’t find any 900mm-wide excavator shaped contours here!
Mt Beauty’s trail builders cling proudly to a gritty, raw and downright challenging style of construction
“It’s us versus technology,” cackled Bernie McArdle, the notoriously prolific Mt Beauty trail builder, when we asked him about his philosophies. The way Bernie sees it, as bikes get better, trails must get tougher, an equal and opposite reaction that ensures mountain biking never gets too easy. And if staving off boredom is Bernie’s aim, then he’s sure succeeding; getting in a rhythm here takes concentration and commitment. The benches are narrow, the trees often tight, the rocks always pointy.
It’s us versus technology.
On our Ride High Country road trip, we met up with one of Mt Beauty’s loudest ambassadors, the irrepressible Paul Van Der Ploeg, for a tour of some of Big Hill’s newest trails. Yes, they’re still building up there, and somehow new nooks and crannies of this landscape continue to be discovered and threaded with fresh singletrack. The trails he had lined up for us were Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Trail, two recent McArdle creations. Riding these trails is a complex negotiation, a constant balancing act of traction and momentum, played out with plenty of body language. On a bad day, they’ll reduce you to buckled frustration, swearing off mountain biking forever. On a good day, you’re hooting and yelling, eyes like saucers, as you thread the needle, you’re Nino Schuster and Sam Hill rolled into one.
For visiting riders, Mt Beauty’s complex network is now a little less mystifying than it once was, thanks to the recent addition of signposted loops. Choose your colour, follow the arrows. Unless you’ve snagged a local guide, this is the best way to experience what Mt Beauty’s trails are about. Along the way you’ll see countless off-shoots snaking off into the trees – there’s so much trail here, even the locals get tangled up, so we’d suggest sticking to the recommended loops if you don’t have your compass handy.
After your ride, a casual roll down the hill into town will lead you to Mt Beauty’s famed bakery, or cruise on out to the recently opened Rocky Valley Bikes cafe, which is conveniently located directly across the road from the Sweetwater Brewing Company! From a regional perspective, Mt Beauty makes a great launching point for a high country road trip. It sits right at the crux of the eastern High Country’s mountain bike scene; it’s only 30 minutes up the hill to Falls Creek, or jump over Tawonga Gap to Bright.
For the full low-down on Mt Beauty, or riding right across North-East Victoria, head to www.ridehighcountry.com.au.